Monday, August 7, 2006

A Non-Sacerdotal Institution: A Second Response to Reisinger, Ekklesia

John G. Reisinger's second installment in his series on the ekklesia is largely well-researched and well-presented. With Reisinger I wholeheartedly affirm:

  1. The existence of the universal church.
  2. The sole authority of Christ, and consequently the absence of any authority in the church except that delegated by Christ
  3. The imperative for every Christian to be a part of a local church
  4. The incomplete nature of New Testament instructions regarding the organization and operations of the local church (does the NT give us qualifications for the custodian? decision-making procedures like we find in Robert's Rules of Order?)
  5. The propriety of churches making decisions based upon "sheer pragmatism" so long as those decisions do not encroach upon items that are addressed in the New Testament.
  6. The impropriety of attempting to make the New Testament say more than it actually does say about any topic.
  7. The crisis in understanding the nature of the true church provoked by the Reformation
  8. The inconsistency of the Reformers' position regarding the nature of the church
  9. The error of the Roman Catholic view of church authority
  10. The error of the Landmark Baptist position regarding the true church.
  11. The greater importance of the interpersonal nature of the church as opposed to the institutional and organizational aspects of the church.
Yet I differ with Reisinger in the following:
  1. I must protest Reisinger's penchant for false dichotomies. In more than one place, Reisinger suggests that the only two viable positions are the Roman Catholic position and Reisinger's position. So, either agree with Reisinger or the Pope...take your pick! Yet reality is not quite that cut-and-dried and a great many people have articulated mediating positions.
  2. Also, I diasgree with Reisinger's use of the Roman Catholic Church in this installment. The other view is wrong because it is Roman. As I've already stated, Reisinger is far too quick to call something Roman, but even where he may be right, his connection of something with Roman Catholic doctrine does not constitute an ipso facto case against its validity. Allow me to scandalize Reisinger by admitting that, on some points of doctrine, I agree with the Roman Catholics. Silly me, I think that a proposition of Christian doctrine is right if it is biblical and wrong if it is unbiblical, regardless of who affirms it or who denies it.
  3. In another false dichotomy, Reisinger asks, "Do the NTS emphasis [sic] union with Christ via the indwelling Holy Spirit, which all agree is true of all Christians, or does it emphasize membership in a local congregation of professing Christians?" Well, I affirm that the New Testament emphasizes union with Christ via the indwelling Holy Spirit, which is true of all Christians. I also emphasize that the New Testament emphasizes membership in a local congregation of professing Christians. What Reisinger has utterly and completely failed to do is show why I have to choose between one or the other.
  4. Reisinger asks, "Where is there a single instance in the NTS of any individual being examined and then joining "a local church?" And the clear answer is, "Nowhere." Yet, there is clear record in the New Testament of individuals being excluded from the local church. Thus, there is in the New Testament such a thing as a member of the universal church who is not eligible to be a member of the local church. If I wanted to play Reisinger's game, I could try to paint him into a corner as well: If there is only one definition for the church, then does exclusion from the local congregation necessarily mean exclusion from the universal church? Hmmm....let's see....who teaches that....could it be....the Roman Catholics?! But Reisinger has not said that, and it would not be fair to put words into his mouth in order to make him be "consistent."
  5. I vehemently disagree with Reisinger's assertation that there is no biblical basis for selecting pastors, ordaining ministers, examining candidates for church membership, etc. The fact that the presentation of the biblical evidence may not have convinced Reisinger is no excuse for pretending that it does not exist. For example, to address the central point of Reisinger's series, do Acts 9:26-27 and Acts 19:1-7 say nothing to us about prospective members being examined before being allowed to "join the disciples"?
  6. Reisinger makes more of the difference between himself as those with the "true church syndrome" than is really there. Although one might conclude from this series that Reisinger does not believe in any such thing as a true church or a false church, I cannot believe that he really thinks that. Surely he affirms that Jesus means something when he speaks of "removing the lampstand" of the Ephesian church in Revelation 2. Surely he regards, for example, the Mormons as a false church. So, both Reisinger and those whom he would criticize believe in true churches and false churches. Surely Reisinger's opponents all also believe that there is some limit to the specificity of New Testament ecclesiology. Their limits are different from Reisinger's limits, but the difference is just that other people draw the line at a different place than he does. He wishes to be a minimalist—to say as little from the New Testament as possible on this topic. I see more than he does in the New Testament. So, Reisinger's implication that he and those who differ from him are in two separate categories of thought is not tenable; we are just two varieties of the same thing—two points on the same continuum.
  7. It seems to me that one can affirm some level of church authority without asserting the local church as the "vicar of Christ." After all, Matthew 16:19 and Matthew 18:18-20 hardly seem intelligible apart from some concept of authority excercised by Christ exclusively through the church. Is there not some middle position between asserting the church as Christ's substitute and divorcing the church entirely from the authority and action of Christ in the world? It seems to me that one must acknowledge Christ's divine choice to work through the church in a way that He does not work outside the church. To do so is not necessarily to endorse the unbounded authority of local churches.
  8. Although some level of comparison between Landmark Baptists and Roman Catholicism is probably appropriate, it is highly inaccurate to compare Landmark Baptists with a system of thought that denies the right of believers to interpret the Bible apart from interpretations imposed by a church. Landmark Baptists believe that every member of a Landmark Baptist church will freely come to the same conclusions that they have in their independent study of the Bible. We may disagree with them, but we leave behind honest dialogue when we suggest that Landmarkism is comparable in this sense to Roman Catholicism.
  9. Although Reisinger has correctly noted that the "one another" duties of believers commanded in the Bible are universal in application and not restricted to a local congregation, perhaps a better analysis would examine the duties of pastors/elders/overseers. Each of these, as undershepherds, has a more restrictive field of duty and authority. What is that sphere of influence and responsibility? It is the local church.
  10. Reisinger's use of William Carey and Hudson Taylor is not true to history. A great many Baptists who hold different views than Reisinger have been able to affirm both the legitimacy of the local church as the sender of missionaries and the right of such churches to work through cooperative structures to accomplish this task. Reisinger is correct that some Baptists have rejected the work of the Baptist Missionary Society and similar structures, to be fair he must acknowledge that a great many Baptists have managed both to disagree with Reisinger and affirm Carey, Taylor, and cooperative missions.
So, my most prominent observation among these is that Reisinger has forced an illegitimate dichotomy. It is possible to have a church that is institutional without abandoning its organic nature. It is possible to have a church that holds authority without it being sacerdotal.

More to come.

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